Saturday, 11 June 2016

In Which I Attempt to Write an Unbiased, Spoiler-Free Review of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child PART 1

An In-Depth, Semi-Unbiased, and Spoiler-Free Review of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child Part 1

This is hard for me to admit, because as far as I'm concerned, JK Rowling is God and everything she touches turns to gold. However, at the interval during part 1 of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, I was disappointed. The staging, whilst stunningly well done, was very disjointed. Scenes lasted 30 seconds at times, and jumped from place to place and character to character so quickly it was hard to follow. The plot seemed too farfetched and in places appeared almost contrived. One particularly memorable moment left me wondering if I'd watched 15 minutes of unnecessary plot development simply in order to facilitate a nifty staging trick. I am completely down with the hashtag #keepthesecrets so you won't get any spoilers from me, but let's just say no matter how impressive you can make fancy staging tricks, it's not worth sacrificing the plot for. 

However, after watching the second half of part 1, things began to make a lot more sense. The backstory, I realised, was completely necessary. I feel confident in saying that the slow start, the dragging scene-setting, is absolutely worth it and wholly necessary. Don't let the first half of part 1 disparage you. The play settles down into a smoother rhythm, with emphasis changing from creating backstory to developing the plot just in the nick of time. So breath, fellow HP lovers, put down your stones, because once I'd watched through to the end, I absolutely fricking loved it. 

From the very beginning of the play, the staging is unbelievable. No matter the location being portrayed, I genuinely believed I was right there with the actors. I have had the privilege of seeing a variety of plays at the theatre, and I can say with some confidence that the staging here is some of the best I've ever seen. Props are used unbelievably well to create the scenery, transporting you throughout the wizarding world. Cloaks in particular are amazing, with brilliant use made of them in changing props between scenes. Larger pieces of furniture are also used to brilliant effect, creating both intimate and cavernous spaces which we change between instantaneously. Elements of dance, which I would not normally hesitate to roll my eyes at, are beautiful. What's more, they also further the character development, a feat which is hard to achieve through dialogue, never mind interpretive dance. 

Lighting is used to great effect consistently throughout the play, with one or two moments standing out as being absolutely brilliant. I fully support the removal of the live birds from the play. It is very obvious where the bird would have been used, and frankly just as good a job is done through lighting without exposing animals to any unnecessary stresses, which I am sure would have occurred when 1400 people saw a live owl appear on-stage. Frankly, I'm not surprised the owl did a runner on day one; I think I would have too. Touching briefly on the score, I very much enjoyed it for the most part, although there were a few moments where it sounded a little tinny to me. However, as a whole, the score serves as a wonderful accompaniment to the play, facilitating the emotions beautifully. 

With it being a preview, there were some mistakes. Some elements of magic seem a little non-magical (particularly notable is when an actor turns "invisible" by ducking behind a piece of furniture- from my elevated seats, this didn't quite have the right effect). What's more, actors slipped up several times with words, a few scene changes were a little delayed, and occasionally actors struggled with their costumes- one action I noticed people struggle with particularly was sheathing their wands. However, that is the nature of previews, and there's something quite endearing about it. It almost serves to remind you that you're one of the privileged few lucky enough to get to see the play so early on, which of course is a real pleasure. 

The single biggest criticism I have of the play so far is the dialogue. Genuinely cringe-worthy at times, there are several occasions throughout the play where I found myself wincing at the stilted, slightly forced dialogue. The actors, to their credit, are doing a superb job with the material they have been given. As such, it's relatively easy to tune out some of the most awkward moments. 

I entered the world of the Cursed Child after the interval, clutching my recently purchased fluffy owl, and hoping that it could only be up from here. I spent the next hour and a bit utterly enraptured. As plot development took over, the world of Harry Potter did what it does best- it made you fall in love with these flawed, fragile human beings so lovingly portrayed. Whether it's characters we already know and love, or those without the added pressure of 7 years of backstory to contend with, each person is portrayed exactly as that- a fully formed person. Their failures are exposed to us, but we also see their triumphs, and both are equally important. There have been mixed reactions to the plot (personally by the end of part 1 I had started to love it), especially by those reading the spoilers online. However, building on canon isn't what makes the Cursed Child truly the eighth story. The actors and the producers have truly brought this play to life.

So, for those of you who are going to see the play soon, prepare yourself. The wizarding world has opened its doors to us once more. Have faith, more than I did anyway, because JK Rowling really can do no wrong. This is a play, a theatrical production, and transferring 7 years, thousands of words, tens of hours of film, on to a stage not much bigger than my school hall is an incomprehensibly difficult task. In remembering that, it becomes so much easier to see what the theatrical production brings to our wizarding world- because watching it right before your eyes, it truly is magical. 

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